As the Bengal players busied themselves in the nets on a chilly and hazy Thursday morning, Ashok Dinda, after a brief bowling stint, where he was at full throttle for over 20 minutes, made his way to the cordoned-off square.
As the groundsmen at the Holkar stadium in Indore worked on the match-wicket, Dinda struck a meditative pose, his eyes fixed on the strip. Then Dinda grimaced as the groundsmen shaved off a layer of grass, just outside the right-hander’s off-stump at both ends.
“If you leave that grass as it is, I might just finish off the match in three days,” uttered Dinda to no one in particular. But he was in earshot of the groundsman who gave a wry smile even as he continued to work on the newly-shaven patch.
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At the end of the session though, the pitch still bore a verdant green look, except for the two patches at either end.
The sight of the wicket, which made Dinda almost lick his lips in glee, also found favor with the Maharashtra side. With both sides’ fast bowlers firing in their previous games, the option on winning the toss should be to field first.
The minimum temperature on Saturday, the first day of the match, is forecast at 11 degree Celsius. The sun has been making a belated appearance over the city in the past couple of days. Bowling on the first morning is the obvious choice.
Bengal, who according to captain Lakshmi Ratan Shukla, have played most of their matches on green-tops, would be ready. Maharashtra on the other hand have had luck going their way, having won the toss twice on green-tops at home, always inserting the opposition in. In both cases, Maharashtra won outright, but their batters will be tested by Dinda, who has 37 wickets from eight matches, and will lead the Bengal line-up.
Bengal will be playing in the semifinals after seven years. Their last appearance coming the 2006-07 season where they lost the final to Mumbai.
Maharashtra, were undone by the pace and bounce that Mumbai’s Shardul Thakur generated in the first innings on a similarly grassy Wankhede strip. The ball kicked from just short of a good length and a number of Maharashtra batsmen were found wanting. However, coach Surendra Bhave put up a brave face saying that he was confident that his batters would be up to the task.
“At the semifinal stage, you should be confident about facing bowlers who deliver at 130 plus. The Mumbai wicket was very lively and any bowler bowling at 130 looked menacing. However, batting on bowler-friendly wickets is more of a mental thing. If our batsmen make finer adjustments, watch the ball carefully, I think we will be fine,” Bhave said.
Interestingly, both pace attacks are quite evenly matched in terms of their respective numbers. Dinda has found able allies in Saurav Sarkar and the veteran Shib Shankar Paul, who have 15 and 17 wickets from four and seven matches respectively.
Shrikant Mundhe with his 30 wickets from eight matches along with Anupam Sanklecha (18 in 5 games) and Samad Fallah (21 in seven), have been consistently troubling batsmen with an off-stump line and ability to swing the ball. Maharashtra also have Dominic Muthuswamy available for selection. With 13 wickets in four matches, the lanky Muthuswamy, can add a different dimension to the attack with his ability to generate lift off the wicket.
Bengal’s batting has often stuttered. Captain, Shukla, is the leading run-getter for his side with 584 runs in 12 innings at 53.09 but the rest of the batting unit has failed to string consistent performances. Wriddhiman Saha, who scored 87 and 81 in the quarter-final against Railways, has not scored a century this season.
Bengal’s batters have managed just five centuries in all this season. In stark contrast, the season’s highest run-getter, Kedar Jadhav, has the managed the same number in 14 innings.